On January 17, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley struck down that state’s photo voter-ID law. The case is Applewhite v Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 330 M.D. 2012. Here is the 50-page ruling (there are an Appendix attached at the end which includes detailed findings of fact and which is another 55 pages).
The ruling relies on the Pennsylvania Constitution, which says elections shall be “free and equal.” The decision finds that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania registered voters, plus an unknown number of people who are eligible to register, lack the needed government photo-ID. The ruling also finds severe barriers for voters who lack the proper ID to obtain one. The decision acknowledges that Pennsylvania has two kinds of acceptable ID, the traditional ID’s issued by the Department of Transportation, and a new type that is supposed to be available for people who just need the ID in order to vote, and which is designed to be easier to obtain. However, the ruling finds that both types must be obtained at Department of Transportation offices. Yet there are no such offices in nine counties, and in another nine counties the offices are only open one day per week.
The opinion also finds the requirement that most acceptable ID’s must have expiration dates to be unreasonable. The decision says, “The photo on an expired ID would allow a poll worker to verify identification and ensure voters are who they say they are, so the expiration date seems obviously unnecessarily restrictive.” The decision also points out that many forms of government photo-ID don’t have expiration dates, making them useless. Examples are most student ID’s, retired military ID’s, veterans ID’s. The decision also criticizes the law for disallowing certain types of photo-ID, such as school employee ID’s, welfare cards, and bus cards, all of which contain photos.
The decision says that the state’s list of registered voters, the SURE database, is unreliable because it contains “inaccuracies, missing and outdated information.” This is relevant, because the ability to obtain a free government-ID depends on that applicant’s already being listed in the SURE database, yet many registered voters are not included in that database.